One of the great wine ‘trends’ of the last twenty years or so has been the stratospheric rise in popularity of ‘Orange’ wines - a new colour spectrum which has made an indelible mark on the canvas of the world of wine. But what are they exactly? And where did they come from?
To begin to understand, we need to learn a little about grape anatomy. Grapes consist of Skins, Seeds and Flesh. The Flesh houses the Juice, the Skins contain all the pigments (colour) and tannins, and the seeds don’t contain much of anything nice, and are best left intact to avoid imparting bitterness.
White wines are made by crushing grapes, and pressing the juice to ferment away from the skins, whereas red wines are made by crushing grapes, but leaving the juice in contact with skins for 2-3 weeks to macerate an extract colour and tannins.
Orange wines are made with white grapes, but in the style of a red wine - that is, with the juice macerating on skins throughout fermentation, and often for a period of weeks or months post-ferment. This has a dual effect of imparting the characteristics of the skins into the wine - subtle tannins, savoury and sometimes chalky notes - as well as increasing the contact with oxygen, bringing about oxidative notes varying from dried fruit to caramel. It is this contact with oxygen which causes the juice to change colour - taking on an orange or amber hue - hence the name ‘Orange Wine’. So yes, there are no oranges involved in the making of Orange wine, and yes, technically ‘Skin-contact white wine’ is the more correct term, but the sticking power of the Orange moniker is hard to debate.
So why is it so fashionable to be slurping on Orange wine right now? Its rise to popularity has been in parallel with that of Natural wine, as this style of wine is a favourite of Natural-leaning winemakers (although it’s worth pointing out that just because a wine is Orange, doesn’t make it natural). But now is has come into the broader sphere of wine, appreciated by high end restaurants for its unique abilities to pair with food, as well as the wine bar scene, where its vibrancy and drinkability make for perfect option for a casual glass.
We stock a broad range of Orange wines here at Yatbui - here is a little selection to get you thinking
A super easy-going, smashable, Sauvignon Blanc based Orange Wine - ideal for those new to the category and looking to try it out.
A delightfully weird orange, made from the German Hybrid Muller-Thurgau. Needs a decant or a bit of air on opening to blow of some reduction, but patience is rewarded with a wine laced with dried peach and spiced apple.
A wine which really shows how elegant Orange wines can be. Deep colour, and rich flavours of peach skin, nectarine and crushed flowers. Take to a nice Cantonese restaurant and enjoy how beautifully it works with the food!
Words by Brett Goss
Photos by Gideon de Kock